If slavery is indeed America’s “original sin” which still haunts our efforts at racial conciliation, then the running, athletic, black quarterback is the NFL’s equivalent. Sunday, as Lamar Jackson struggled mightily against the Chargers in a lose-and-stay-home elimination playoff game, one couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming undertones of years of football prejudice against “the black QB.”
And even though we have by my count – 3 bonafide black “Superstar” QB’s (Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson), 3 more young budding star QB’s of mixed races (Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Marcus Mariota) 1 troubled young black QB who hasn’t nearly lived up to his promise and has been in trouble off the field (Jameis Winston) – it still feels to me that in the case of Lamar Jackson, he’s being needlessly graded on a curve by some pundits and ex-players in the NFL commentariat.
Here are the facts: with about 52 of 60 minutes gone in this game, Jackson was as utterly ineffective as a passer as a guy pulled off the street. The first 10 possessions netted a pathetic 3 first downs, and he was 3-10 for 25 yards through the air. And if you count sacks, he was -17 in “net” passing.
With the score 23-3, and with a healthy former Super Bowl winning QB on the bench, it should have been a no brainer to give Jackson the hook.
Instead, John Harbaugh let Jackson go down at the helm of the ship – even though some late garbage time plays helped dress up the box score – for reasons that had nothing to do with trying everything in your power to win the game and worry about everything else on Monday.
The Chargers employed a masterful and almost unprecedented scheme to stop Jackson: they used 7 DBs on 58 of 59 snaps on defense! The speedier safeties pushed up to play LB, were much more nimble in shutting down Jackson’s backbreaking scrambles.
Would Flacco have fared much better, given how badly the Ravens o-line was getting shredded? Not likely. But to not even ask the question by keeping Flacco on ice, guaranteed you’ll never have the answer. It was one of the darnedest things I’ve ever seen.
And I’d be willing to bet that any other rookie QB stinking up the joint, would have surely been pulled at halftime – even if he was the spark that delivered a 6-1 record down the stretch to get his team into the playoffs like Jackson was this season. The conversation would have been short and bitter: “Kid, you did your best. It’s a big spot in the post-season. There are better days ahead. But we’re gonna give the old war horse a shot, hope for a miracle.”
Not that I care. It’s just that it seemed that the reaction to even suggesting Flacco should get a chance in this one game, sparked anger and tangential arguments that were well wide of the point: first win the damn game! (One person even asked: “But if he pulls off the comeback win… then what do you do *next* week?” Ummm, is this a trick question? Next week you get to play again. That’s what!)
Some spoke of the “mess” it would create to bench Jackson. Others said it would lead to awkward “questions” in the off-season. Some said because the Ravens have already decided to “move on” from Flacco after the year, then boom, decision vindicated!
How bout it’s just a case of: “Yank the starter. He doesn’t have it today.”
The hidden push behind Jackson being “the next big thing” goes all the way back to draft day, when Deion Sanders nearly melted in praise of Ozzie Newsome for moving up to take Jackson at the end of the first round. Almost as if it would have been some disgrace that a Heisman winning black QB could slip to the second round.
Hell, we even have black quarterbacks leaguewide holding clipboards as backups – a job once seen as a cushy, no-work, no-bruises gig reserved for the veteran white dude. We see you Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett, Josh Dobbs, Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III, DeShone Kizer, Teddy Bridgewater and Brett Hundley!
Michael Irvin asked in a tweet “Ravens fans booing Lamar Jackson in the second half… what does that say about the fans in Baltimore?”
We know what Irvin was hinting at, but really? A fanbase and town that has deified Ray Lewis? Bad play and bad teams, get booed. It’s not any more complicated than that. Maybe they were booing at Harbaugh’s refusal to “break glass in case of emergency.” Maybe they were tired of punts.
I remember Desmond Howard – black, I think – saying to me in a radio interview at the Army Navy Game after Jackson won the Heisman two years ago, bluntly: “Yeah… he’ll be a good… wide receiver.”
Personally, I think the Ravens need to go forth with Jackson to see what kind of survivable, sustainable offense they can mold around his skills. I am not smart enough to assess how good of a “passer” he is right now. Is it reads, timing, accuracy (or all of the above) that need to improve? I don’t know. I think it’s possible that he’s a slightly better version of RG3, who without the over-inflated ego and stage dad, could become something really good. As long as he knows how to slide, and can make the sideline his best friend (think: Wilson).
And yeah, the Flacco era is done. Long live FlaccOH, hun!
But how come a simple case of benching a guy who was clearly not effective had to be about so much more, and so loud and full of nonsense?
This battle is over and won, everybody. Black quarterbacks have been accepted by general managers, fans, and marketers. So stop treating Lamar Jackson with kid gloves, and we’ll see how his career unfolds going forward.
Today, he stunk. Period. It’s okay to say it.